New Pomona Dorms Earn Top LEED Certification

Pomona College’s new north campus dorms, Sontag and Pomona Halls, have earned the coveted LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) Platinum Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). They are the first college residence halls in California, and the second large-scale residence project in the nation to earn such a distinction.

According to the USGBC website, LEED certifications are awarded on a 100-point scale, with 10 bonus points for regionally specific issues, based on criteria that range from water efficiency, sustainable building materials, and energy efficiency. The Platinum certification, which is awarded to buildings that earn 80 points or more, is the most prestigious of the four standards (the other three being Certified, Silver, and Gold).

The two residence halls opened in June and house approximately 153 students. The buildings feature three to six-person suites, each complete with a common room, bathroom, and kitchenette. Pomona Hall houses the Outdoor Education Center (OEC), which acts as the base of operations for On the Loose (OTL), the student-run outdoors club of the Claremont Colleges. Sontag Hall also features a rooftop garden, which Pomona’s Draper Center for Community Partnerships plans to utilize as part of a gardening program for local youth.

Andrea Ramella, Pomona’s Project Manager for the new dorms and a LEED Accredited Professional, said the buildings approached sustainability from multiple angles.

“The main sustainability features include low-flow water fixtures predicted to decrease water usage by 36.6 percent, native and drought-tolerant planting… energy efficient lighting including daylighting and occupancy sensors… rooftop solar voltaic panels providing 14 percent of the buildings’ needs… a 2,000 gallon solar hot water system predicted to provide 80 percent of the buildings’ needs, and 95 percent construction waste recycling,” she wrote in an email to TSL.

According to Bowen Close, Coordinator of Pomona’s Sustainability Integration Office (SIO), one of the school’s goals for the new buildings was to give students a role in reducing their own energy use.

“I’m most excited about the features that allow students to make choices about how they live and how they use the spaces,” she said. Two such features are switches in each bedroom that shut off all outlets in a room but one, and ceiling fans that can be used in addition to individually-controlled air conditioning units.

Students currently living in Sontag and Pomona Halls said they appreciated the building’s sustainability features, but some questioned the practicality of the building’s technical elements and construction materials.

“The [air conditioning] doesn’t turn on unless all the windows are closed,” said Albert Liu PO ’12, a Sontag resident. “The recycled materials are also peculiar—my bedroom ceiling light is broken, and the two hallway lights are broken. But overall, it’s a really great dorm. I like its accessibility, the automatic doors for people with disabilities, and the toilets with the double flush feature for solids and liquids.”

Ramella also admitted that the buildings had some drawbacks, pointing out that the atmospheric variability can cause fluctuations in the performance of the buildings’ sustainability components.

“The buildings’ renewable energy features are somewhat dependent on our weather,” she wrote. “They work better in full sun but will still produce energy or heat during overcast or even cool weather.”

Sontag Hall and Pomona Hall join several other LEED-certified buildings on Pomona’s campus. The Lincoln and Edmunds buildings, completed in 2006, are LEED Gold certified, while the Richard C. Seaver Biology Building, completed in 2003, is LEED Silver. The recently-completed South Campus Athletic Facility and Parking Structure is LEED Gold certified.

According to Close, Pomona’s minimum standard for new projects is LEED Gold.

“Platinum is very hard to get,” she said. “Gold tends to be something that’s achievable but takes some effort, but Platinum is sometimes unattainable because of external factors such as location and intended use.”

“We realized as we were going through the design process that with Pomona and Sontag we may be able to get higher, and we were, so that was great,” she added.

Only a handful of colleges and universities across the nation have residence halls with the Platinum distinction, including Duke University, Western Oregon University, Bastyr University, and Warren Wilson College.

Close said the goal of campus-wide LEED certifications is one of the many sustainability initiatives that Pomona has undertaken in the past decade, including Green Bikes, the bike shop and rental program; ReCoop, the used books and accessories program; and Greenware Kits, the reusable dishware checkout system.

“Sustainability is part of everything we do,” she said.

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